There has been a recent spate of reports about the illegal harassment of innocent photographers, train and plane spotters, and of peaceful demonstrators exercising their rights of peaceful, lawful protest etc. by officious, jobsworth, ignorant or poorly trained private security guards, Police Community Service Officers or by genuine Police Constables,
There are also ongoing "Climate of Fear" propaganda campaigns, which seek to make innocent public photographers or mobile phone users into terrorist suspects.
These all deserve public apologies and disciplinary or criminal investigations into those responsible for them,
It is worth remembering, however, that there are actually some places where photography is illegal.
Written answers Monday 16 Jun 2008 : Column 667W
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Government Communication Headquarters: Photography
Mark Harper (Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions; Forest of Dean, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for what reasons and on what authority photography at the Government Communications Headquarters has been prohibited
David Miliband (Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; South Shields, Labour)
holding answer 13 June 2008
Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 makes it an offence for any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state to approach, inspect or be in the neighbourhood of a 'prohibited place' or to make or otherwise obtain a sketch (a term which encompasses a photograph) which might be directly or indirectly useful to a potential enemy. All Government Communications Headquarters sites are prohibited places for the purposes of the Act.
This Labour Government abuses the supposed Parliamentary legislative safeguard, of having a Secretary of State personally scrutinising and signing an Order, or having to be Notified of a Request, to suspend normal laws, in a narrowly defined geographical area, on a temporary basis only, which they, as our supposedly democratically elected representatives have the power to Authorise, Amend or Refuse or Revoke.
They have demonstrated this abusive preference for general repression through Kafkaesque secret laws, which the general public cannot know whether they are being applied in a particular place, at a particular time or not, by their refusal to list when and where Terrorism Act 200 Section 44 stop and search without reasonable suspicion powers are or have been in force - see Home Office Terrorism Act 2000 s44 authorisations FOIA request correspondence archive.
We wonder if the Government will, in its usual secretive manner, also attempt to keep secret, what is already known to our enemies and allies through aerial and satellite reconnaissance i.e. the locations of such "Prohibited Places".
Perhaps it is time for another Freedom of Information Act request.
[UPDATE July 3rd 2008 - "The Home Office does not hold the information that you have requested." see this Spy Blog UK FOIA requests blog article - The War on Tourism and Photographers - where are the Prohibited Places under the Official Secrets Act 1911 ?]
These "Prohibited Places" are defined in the Official Secrets Act 1911 section 3 Definition of prohibited place:
3.Definition of prohibited place.
For the purposes of this Act, the expression "prohibited place" means--
any work of defence, arsenal, naval or air force establishment or station, factory, dockyard, mine, minefield, camp, ship, or aircraft belonging to or occupied by or on behalf of His Majesty, or any telegraph, telephone, wireless or signal station, or office so belonging or occupied, and any place belonging to or occupied by or on behalf of His Majesty and used for the purpose of building, repairing, making, or storing any munitions of war, or any sketches, plans, models or documents relating thereto, or for the purpose of getting any metals, oil, or minerals of use in time of war];
any place not belonging to His Majesty where any [F2 munitions of war], or any [F2 sketches, models, plans] or documents relating thereto, are being made, repaired, [F3 gotten,] or stored under contract with, or with any person on behalf of, His Majesty, or otherwise on behalf of His Majesty; and
any place belonging to [F3 or used for the purposes of] His Majesty which is for the time being declared [F2 by order of a Secretary of State] to be a prohibited place for the purposes of this section on the ground that information with respect thereto, or damage thereto, would by useful to an enemy; and
any railway, road, way, or channel, or other means of communication by land or water (including any works or structures being part thereof or connected therewith), or any place used for gas, water, or electricity works or other works for purposes of a public character, or any place where any [F2 munitions of war], or any [F2 sketches, models, plans] or documents relating thereto, are being made, repaired, or stored otherwise than on behalf of His Majesty, which is for the time being declared [F2 by order of a Secretary of State] to be a prohibited place for the purposes of this section, on the ground that information with respect thereto, or the destruction or obstruction thereof, or interference therewith, would be useful to an enemy
1911 obviously predates the widespread use of aerial photography and satellite reconnaissance was not even in the minds of science fiction authors at that time.
Some further categories of Prohibited Place have been added by later legislation e.g. Nuclear Power stations and laboratories, and military nuclear sites:
Licensed Nuclear Sites under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965
"a site belonging to or used for the purposes of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority,"
as per Statutory Instrument 1994 No. 968 Public Register of Licensed Nuclear Sites (.pdf)
"any electronic communications station or office belonging to, or occupied by, the provider of a public electronic communications service"
is also a "Prohibited Place" under the Communications Act 2003 Schedule 17 para 2
"2) For the purposes of section 3(c) of the said Act of 1911 (under which the Secretary of State may by order declare any place belonging to Her Majesty to be a prohibited place for the purposes of that Act) a place belonging to or used for the purposes of the CAA shall be deemed to be a place belonging to Her Majesty."
This seems to cover most civil airports in the UK e.g. Heathrow, but it is unclear if this applies to photography by , say, plane spotters outside of the perimeter fence.
It is worth remembering that even some Government buildings, e.g. those occupied by Her Majesties Revenue and Customs, or the Passport / ID Cards interview interrogation centres, some privately run Prisons, some Ministry of Defence office buildings, military research laboratories sold off to Qinetiq etc.. are no longer actually Crown Property, but have been sold off to private sector property developers and / or service providers under Gordon Brown's notoriously complicated and bad value for public money Private Finance Initiative and privatisation schemes.
Unless these PFI buildings are specifically covered by a current Order signed by a Secretary of State, then such buildings are no longer automatically Prohibited Sites.
You can see some DA - Notice / Defence, Press & Broadcasting Advisory Committee cleared images of some of these places at Serious Organised Crime and Police Act section 128 Offence of trespassing on designated site, but there is no excuse for banning photography of the exteriors of these buildings or sites. or the interiors of the public spaces of tourists attractions and mainstream media press conference areas like Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Downing Street etc.
N.B. the power of arrest under section 6 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 was repealed when the relevant schedule of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 came into force on the 1st January 2006 see - Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 3495 (C. 146) The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Commencement No. 4 and Transitory Provision) Order 2005
Does this mean that it is no longer an arrestable offence, or that the new "catch all" Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 section 110 Powers of arrest for a police constable will be used instead ?
Actual prosecutions under Official Secrets Act 1911 currently require the permission of the Attorney General, something which will change to the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions, one of the less controversial aspects of the wretched Constitutional Renewal Bill, if it is passed into law.